Did you know that noise has an impact on your body? Most individuals do not realize the short and long term damage that occupational noise has on them. Actually, most symptoms can be confused with the normal “work stress” that an individual may encounter. Ask yourself, have you ever experienced a decrease in the quality of your sleep, an increase in annoyance, stress or find yourself distracted at work? These are all signs of acute effects of noise on the body.

More serious and chronic symptoms that you may experience are:

  • Hypertension
  • Reduced ability to learn
  • Lack of productivity
  • Heart disease
  • Tinnitus or permanent hearing loss

In fact, a study published in the Oxford Journal researched non-auditory effects on health confirming these effects and others. Now, many may not think that they are victims to occupational noise because they do not see the symptoms immediately or do not have them right now. The most important fact that we must take into consideration is, hearing loss is gradual. Unless you are exposed to 100 dB or more in less than 15 minutes, you may not see or feel the immediate impact that noise has on the body. The other point to consider is that hearing loss is irreversible, but more importantly completely preventable.

The proper hearing protection is the best solution to this issue. Today, OSHA regulations say for those exposed to 85dB or higher, hearing protection is needed. If individuals are exposed to 90bD or more, then hearing protection is a must. Regulation requires companies to provide at least two different options to individuals, but is all hearing protection created equal? The University of Michigan, School of Nursing conducted a study of more than 2,600 workers at Mid-West automobile factory. The results of the researched showed that 76 % of individuals believed their hearing was “excellent” or “good”, when in fact 42% had hearing loss. Many of these individuals were experiencing acute or chronic symptoms of noise exposure as well. All workers were provided with hearing protection as mandated by OSHA regulations. Now, the workers were provided hearing protection and still found themselves with shifts in their yearly audiogram tests. Why is that? The answer is simple, the vast majority of the time – workers remove hearing protection due to one of the following reasons:

  • Discomfort of device
  • The need to communicate

What can we take away from this? Finding the right hearing protection for your employees' needs and environment will help minimize Occupational Noise –Induced Hearing Loss (ONIHL) and short term health issues. Here are some tips that safety professionals can consider when selecting hearing protection:

  • Is the workplace dirty? (dust, pieces of metal, etc. in the air)
  • Is the work environment humid or hot?
  • Do your worker have to communicate with managers or each other while at their workstation?
  • How many decibels are your employees exposed to during an eight hour work shift?
  • Do your employees work in between two loud pieces of machinery?
These factors play a role in the kind of protection that is best for your worker. Also, remember that over-protection is just the same as no protection. An over-protected worker is more prone to accidents and is a danger to themselves and those around them. As safety professionals, the job is never easy. Protecting the hearing of your workforce is essential and choosing the best protection is never an easy task either. The hope is that by working together we can eliminate ONIHL and creating a world with zero occupational deafness.